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Social Science Urban

Big Mall

by (author) Kate Black

Coach House Books
Initial publish date
Feb 2024
Urban, Popular Culture, Social History
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Feb 2024
    List Price

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A phenomenology of the mall: If the mall makes us feel bad, why do we keep going back? In a world poisoned by capitalism, is shopping what makes life worth living?

Kate Black grew up in West Edmonton Mall – a mall on steroids, notorious for its indoor waterpark, deadly roller coaster, and controversial dolphin shows. But everyone has a favourite mall, or a mall that is their own personal memory palace. It's a place people love to hate and hate to love – a site of pleasure and pain, of death and violence, of (sub)urban legend.

Blending a history of shopping with a story of coming of age in North America's largest and strangest mall, Big Mall investigates how these structures have become the ultimate symbol of late-capitalist dread – and, surprisingly, a subversive site of hope.

"Speaking as a child of PacSun and Hot Topic myself, Big Mall is like a madeleine dipped in Orange Julius. Like a mall, the book itself has a lot of everything, a sublime mix of memoir, history, and cultural criticism. Kate Black is a learned Virgil in the consumerist Inferno, always avoiding the obvious and leading us to surprising connections—oil, suicide, Reddit, squatters, dolphins. Whether malls fill you with nostalgia or horror, this book will change your relationship to the world we've constructed around us.” – Tony Tulathimutte, author of Private Citizens

"Before there was Instagram, there was the mall. But what happens when a seasonless, tacky, fantasyland is all you knew growing up? How does one embrace a genuinely fake experience? Or to be more precise, a fake but genuine experience? Kate Black’s Big Mall is a smart, sentimental, and perspective-shifting look at the outsized role that big malls play in modern life. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, one thing’s for sure: after reading this book, you’ll never look at a mall in the same way again." – Ziya Tong, Science broadcaster & author of The Reality Bubble


About the author

Kate Black’s essays have been published in The Globe and Mail, The Walrus, and Maisonneuve. In 2020, she was selected as one of Canada’s top emerging voices in non-fiction by the RBC Taylor Prize and the National Magazine Awards. She grew up in Alberta, and lives in Vancouver.

Kate Black's profile page

Editorial Reviews

"[A] keen appraisal of malls’ social import." – Publishers Weekly

"With Big Mall: Shopping for Meaning author Kate Black attempts to demystify the history of Canada’s most famous consumerist landmark by taking a magnifying glass to West Edmonton Mall specifically, but also to the concept of shopping malls more generally." – Logan Macnair, The British Columbia Review

“An examination of adolescence and death and consumption and spectacle, Big Mall ponders why the mall makes us feel good, and bad. Much of the book is introspective; some of it looks outward at the cultural forces that spread this particular facet of American commerce across the globe…Finishing the slim book feels like stumbling out of the air conditioning and fluorescent lighting, blinking, into harsh and warm sun.” – Maura Judkis, Washington Post

"Big Mall: Shopping for Meaning is ... one part academic examination of consumerism viewed through the experience of the shopping mall and one part personal fascination with one of the world’s biggest retail and entertainment centres." – Justin Bell, Edmonton Journal

“This book is a stream of consciousness in the best way, which has made me feel seen and heard like no other. The mall is nothing and it is everything - it is a slow decay of connection and public space, a stark example of the sharp lines of inequality and poverty, a place for finding and making and remaking yourself. The mall can be an equalizer, where one is merely rendered as Consumer; but even more, it bites down on systems of marginalization, colonization, and racialization. Kate Black does a remarkable job of exploring the mall as a concept and all of its discontents, laying bare the nuanced and complex positions we all hold towards the malls of our childhood and today.” – Jordan April, Flyleaf Books
"Ultimately shopping centres like Southdale and West Edmonton Mall exist to make money. Throughout Big Mall, Black strives to separate that harsh reality from her nostalgia-influenced sense of what the mall could be." – Alexander Sallas, Literary Review of Canada

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